Top 10 tips for caregivers
Whether you become a short-term caregiver for a loved one recovering from surgery, or take on a long-term commitment caring for someone with physical or mental impairment (or both), you will find that caregiving -- while an expression of love -- is no walk in the park.
You might be called upon to perform a variety of routine tasks such as shopping, preparing meals, paying bills, bathing, dressing and managing medicines. And you might become a source of emotional support and companionship. Caregivers often sacrifice their jobs and pay out of pocket to assist loved ones. They can experience stress, burnout and physical problems of their own.
Family caregivers are the backbone of home health care in this country, providing the equivalent of more than $470 billion a year in care. Family caregivers play an important role in keeping people out of long-term care facilities, which are under tremendous strain right now because of low staffing and funding.
It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. Based on my years of experience as a private patient advocate, here's how I advise my clients' caregivers.
1.) Ensure your loved one's physical safety. A fall could cause serious injury or even lead to death. Some suggestions: Remove throw rugs, reduce clutter and move or store furniture to create open spaces. Have adequate supports -- grab bars and seats -- in the bathroom. Your care recipient should be wearing nonslip footwear and have room to maneuver a walker or wheelchair.
2.) Save stress and time by becoming your loved one's personal representative. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), health care providers can only discuss care and treatment with the patient or their spouse, unless the patient has named a personal representative. Have your care recipient sign a HIPAA release so you are authorized to speak to their doctors on their behalf. And designate a backup representative.
3.) Keep health information handy. Another thing that will save time and stress is to keep the care recipient's medical information updated and accessible. It should include known health conditions, insurance information, doctors' names and phone numbers, known conditions, previous surgeries, and medications and dosages. Hang it on the fridge if you can.
4.) Educate yourself and other family members. Someone with dementia is not being difficult on purpose -- it's just how their brain is working. It's important to educate yourself, as well as other family members and friends, about the care recipient's capabilities.
5.) Share information. Keep other family and concerned people informed of the care recipient's status. This can be a quick note on Facebook, or a short email or phone call.
6.) Make sure you have the right adaptive equipment. Consult with the doctor or physical therapist about what would make care easier on you and your loved one. Walker? Wheelchair? Special bed? Commode? There are a lot of options for home health equipment, much of which will be paid by insurance or Medicare.
7.) Be specific when you ask for help. Whenever someone says, "Let me know what I can do," take them up on the offer, whether it's meal prep, a few loads of laundry or even help getting dressed in the morning. You're driving the bus, so ask them to do what you and your loved one need, not what they think you need.
8.) Welcome visitors, but set boundaries. You don't want family and friends showing up on the doorstep with unexpected visitors. Ask them to schedule visits in advance for specific lengths of time and when they ask if they can bring anything, well … see tip No. 7.
9.) Don't forget self-care. You still need your own doctor's appointments, haircuts, exercise -- or even a treat, like a pedicure, massage or a lunch out with friends. If your loved one can't be left alone for an hour or two, ask other family members to sit with them while you're out. Even though this is probably the hardest thing for a caregiver to do, these "me time" activities will recharge your batteries.
10.) Ask about getting paid. You aren't being mercenary. You're giving up a lot of time and money for this act of selflessness, and you're saving everyone money in the long run. Talk with siblings and other family members about the cost of caregiving and ask them to contribute, either by paying you for your time or providing money for the household. And talk to an accountant about how to report any income to the IRS.
Caregiving is probably the hardest job you'll ever love -- rewarding and tough all at the same time. Don't carry the burden by yourself.
• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates (www.NorthShoreRN.com). Her new book, "How to Be a Healthcare Advocate for Yourself & Your Loved Ones," ► Dec 2022; self publish ◄ is now available on Amazon. She is offering a free phone consultation to Daily Herald readers; call her at (847) 612-6684.